There’s an old television commercial that starts: “How do you spell relief?” Thinking about tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) instead of stomachs, a tire dealer might ask himself or herself: “How do I spell opportunity?” Try S-A-F-E-T-Y!
That’s some of the philosophy being used as a selling tool for TPMS by Mountain View Tire and its 29 stores in the greater Los Angeles area and Southern California. Its business mix is 60% tires and 40% service, and annual sales are well over $40 million for the Goodyear brands that comprise 90% of tire sales.
“When we talk to customers about their TPMSs, it’s generally an education session,” says Mike Mitsos, vice president of Mountain View Tire.
Mitsos added that many customers don’t even know whether or not they have a TPMS on their cars. That’s an immediate red flag that tells the dealer it’s time to put the sales pitch in motion.
“It’s hard to say what percentage of drivers don’t know if they have TPMS,” Mitsos says. “If they never had a low-pressure indicator light on the dashboard, it’s my guess that they probably don’t know they have that option on their vehicles.
“Obviously, if they have experienced a low-pressure signal, that would generate some curiosity, and those customers would start asking questions.
“Regardless, we tell them that tires have a tendency to lose a few pounds of air pressure per month and that there are many road hazards that cause slow leaks in tires. We further explain the hazards and pitfalls of underinflated tires.
“Then, we explain that the TPMS is a safety benefit and should not be ignored when the TPMS light on the dashboard indicates low air pressure. Then, we generally take out the owner’s manual or pull the information from Alldata and show them the steps and procedures of resetting the system.”
“They are usually very happy to learn about another function of their cars that they hadn’t known before,” says Mitsos.
Mike and his family are no strangers to customer relations. Mike is one of three sons born to Nick and Irene Mitsos. The only son of Greek immigrants, father Nick worked at the family restaurant after a two-year tour with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. In 1987, and after 18 years in the food-service business, Nick decided to pack up his family and move to California. That year, Nick opened up his first Goodyear retail tire center in Duarte, Calif.
A year later, Mike joined his father in the business.
“I worked the counter for six years until I was pulled out to be a district manager when we opened our sixth location in 1994,” says Mike. “Our philosophy is to create a ‘Wow’ experience make customers say, ‘Wow, you guys are different than anyone else!’”
Mike and his brothers, Paul and Chris, learned a lot from their father who brought “hard work and dedication from the restaurant business,” says Mike. “My grandfather came to America from Greece in 1923 and arrived on Ellis Island with nothing except the clothes on his back.”
Today, Mike brings the family-learned ethics to the tire business.
“If we break a (TPMS) sensor, we fix it,” he says. “We’ll replace it with an OE sensor, not an aftermarket sensor. We want it to be seamless for the customer.”
Repairs notwithstanding, the safety aspect of TPMS, however, is not the only salient point that Mountain View Tire and other dealers are pushing.
Many studies have revealed that running tires with too little air pressure is not uncommon. It has been estimated that approximately one out of every four vehicles on the road is running on underinflated tires. To further punctuate the safety aspect, this also means that one out of every four drivers is needlessly sacrificing his or her vehicle’s fuel economy and handling and reducing the tires’ durability and tread life.
And, in these times of fast-rising gas prices, keeping tires inflated to proper levels is not only a safety concern, but an economical one, too. Monitoring tire pressure to keep tires at recommended levels also helps with improved vehicle miles-per-gallon performance.
“This (TPMS) technology is great news for vehicle safety, and it also has the potential to contribute to reduced fuel consumption," says Jeff Owens, president of Delphi Electronics and Safety. “With oil at more than $65 a barrel and rising, the fuel-savings benefits will increase the attractiveness of this system to drivers and vehicle makers.”
Mitsos agrees with the premise, but what about problems with some of the present systems? “The resetting procedure of the system is different for every car,” Mitsos says.
“That’s a problem. It takes too much time to look up each vehicle’s reset procedure, and then, there is the chore of actually resetting the system, which is not a 10-second task. For every flat repair, every tire rotation, every new tire this must be done.
“It’s a big hassle, but if we want to separate ourselves from the competition, we must be informative and quick to resolve issues, all with a smile. And, I can’t justify charging my customers to reset their TPMSs.
“It’s like nitrogen. It’s a great idea, and it works, but who wants to pay for nitrogen or even plain air when consumers have been trained over the years that air is free? I understand eventually we will be backed into a corner and will have to invest in the proper equipment to reset these systems quickly.”
For additional information on resetting procedures, there are a couple of sources: First, TIA has a training guide and course, and the materials can be ordered through its Web site at www.tireindustry.org or by phone at 800-876-8372.
Another source is the Department of Transportation, which has published a 161-page guide (DOT HS 809 297) available in PDF format through this link: http://www.tirereview.com/files/PDF/tpms.pdf.
Dealer Finds Tool Helps Troubleshoot TPMS
TPMS has become part of the normal routine for tire dealers. Whether it’s a simple tire rotation, a full replacement or just an inspection, dealing with TPMS is part of the process.
Trying to simplify things, Ron Ananian, owner of R/A Automotive in Waldwick, N.J., looked at a lot of different TPMS tools before settling on the OTC 3933-1 as his “weapon of choice.”
“It works well and is very user friendly. For such a simple tool, I am amazed at how much it can do, and how it has changed some of the basics,” Ananian says.
Troubleshooting TPMS can be a headache all its own, but a good diagnostic/reset tool helps level the field. Ananian had one such problem vehicle recently a late-model Jeep Liberty with a pesky TPMS warning lamp that stayed lit.
“A quick check of tire pressures turned up a slightly low left rear tire by a few pounds but not terribly out of range. But, I wasn’t convinced that low pressure was the cause,” he says. “I explained to the customer that there may be more here than meets the eye. So, we reset the system and advised the customer to return should the light come on.”
The very next morning, the Liberty was back, warning light fully engaged. All four tires held the correct air pressure, so there was no air leak.
“The first tool I reached for was the same tool as the day before,” he says. “I knew from my reading up on the tool that it not only helps perform reset procedures but can also diagnose system issues.
“Within minutes, I found that the right front sensor had no output signal,” Ananian says. The bad sensor was quickly replaced, and the customer was happy.
Happy, too, was Ananian, who found that the tool can also verify a tire pressure gauge’s reading. “If the gauge reads 35 psi, and the sensor is reporting 30, somebody is lying, and the problem could turn on the light.” Now, he can double check gauge accuracy and eliminate problems before they occur.